Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Lutefisk beats politics? You betcha

The Democrats took control of the House and the President fired the secretary of defense, but the top stories on the minds of newspaper readers in Minneapolis yesterday were a paean to Minnesota wine and a piece entitled, “Lutefisk: It’s not a joke.”

That’s one of the intersting things I found in a quick analysis of reader reaction to the tsunami of election coverage that just crested over us. The study suggests there is a major disconnect between what editors want to print and what readers want to read.

Since the majority of newspapers track the stories website visitors send to their friends, I rounded up the three most-emailed stories yesterday at eight major newspapers. The results appear below.

Of the 24 stories in the sample, fully two-thirds had nothing whatsoever to do with the election. Only five (20.8%) contained election results or analysis. Only three (12.5%) dealt with the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld in the aftermath of the vote.

The non-election fare ranged widely from a no-knead bread recipe in the New York Times to the follow-up on an investigative report in the Los Angeles Times to a USA Today story about a naked man arrested for carrying a concealed weapon.

The only paper whose readers put election news in all three of the top spots was the Denver Post. The other two election stories were chosen by readers of the Wall Street Journal. With all the election news concentrated in those two papers, no election stories made the Top Three in any of the other six.

What does it all mean?

As a journalist, I would say news selection, especially in such matters as an election changing the balance of power for the first time in 12 years, is too sacred to be affected by pandering to subscribers who are more interested in where the naked man put his gun than in the details of the Senate recount in Virginia.

As a marketing guy, however, I would say there is an uncomfortable, if not dangerous, incongruity between the intentions of the editors and the expectations of their readers.

One explanation for the apparent indifference to post-election coverage is that readers may be suffering from profound fatigue after days of increasingly intrusive campaign advertising, relentless automated phone calls and wall-to-wall election coverage.

Another possibility is that readers, though still appropriately interested in the electoral process, felt they got all the news they needed in the barrage of TV, radio and online coverage that climaxed on election night.
In that case, they may have viewed the extensive morning-after newspaper coverage as a wretched excess of day-old news.

Editors must pay serious attention to the disconnect between them and their readers. And they need to fix it. Fast.

Top three emailed stories
on the day after the election

Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Woman fatally bitten by snake in church
UPS eyes job cuts in 2007
Rumsfeld quits; Bush taps Gates

Dallas Morning News
Pastor calls non-Christians "doomed"
Man dies in fall at freeway interchange
Crew of TV's "Cheaters" goes on trial

Denver Post
Voting problems overwhelm city
Roundup of local election results
Pot ballot initiative "goes up in smoke"

Los Angeles Times
Boss quits controversial hospital program
Buddy system helps special-ed students
L.A. investors bid on Tribune Co.

Minneapolis Star-Tribune
The Minnesota wine challenge
Lutefisk: It’s not just a joke
Facts behind flu shots

New York Times
The secret of great bread
No-knead bread recipe
Op-Ed: Married couples "too close"

USA Today
Naked man arrested for concealed weapon
Rumsfeld stepping down, Bush says
ABC putting "Lost" series on hiatus

Wall Street Journal
All eyes on congressional races
Rumsfeld resigns, replaced by Gates
Dems hope to control Senate; VA recount

Source: Newspaper sites 5-6 p.m. (EST) on Nov. 8